New draft anti-terrorist law criticized for violating freedom of expression and other rights

In Tunisia, a new draft law has received much criticism among unions, the press, rights organizations and political parties. According to them the law violates rights such as freedom of expression. The draft law has been drawn following the deadly attack on Tunisia’s Bardo Museum last month, in which 21 tourists were killed.

New law

The draft law is aimed to protect police and armed forces. According to the draft law people are to be sentenced to five years in prison when insulting the morale of the security forces. For publishing information on operations one can get sentenced up to two years.

The bill is intended to replace the current counterterrorism law which was adopted in 2003. This law supported international efforts to fight terrorism and to eradicate money-laundering. It was highly criticized for its broad definition of terrorism, undermining the right to a fair trial, and the possibility to prosecute dissenters for peaceful activities.

Criticism

The draft law has received a large amount of criticism in politics and society. Tunisia has been struggling with democratic reforms following the ouster of Tunisian President Ben Ali in 2011. Any law that might harm the fragile democracy are highly scrutinized. Criticism arose from the security unions saying it would widen the gap between citizens and security forces. The Journalists’ Union described the law as hostile to freedom of expression, pointing to the second part of the draft law. Journalist Union President Neji Bghouri said in a statement that the ‘ law establishes a police state and dictatorship,’ saying he ‘cannot accept this scandal.’

 Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report concerning the new draft anti-terrorism law saying the new draft is worse than the 2014 draft. The first draft was suspended amid disagreements over its provisions and the upcoming elections in October 2014. The new draft includes the introduction of capital punishment for terrorism acts. In a reaction, the report states that ‘HRW opposed capital punishment under all circumstances, as a practice unique in its cruelty and finality.’ HRW strongly recommends the draft law to be amended before passing it to the parliament. According to them, the draft law restricts the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech.

In response to the criticism, Rafik Chelli, a senior interior ministry official stated ‘this law does not hurt freedom of expression and of the press and only aims to enhance the protection of the security forces.’ However, the government is inconsistent on the law as ruling parties the secular Popular Front and the Islamist Ennahda have demanded the bill to be withdrawn at once. Popular Front leader Hamma Hammami said: "The law is a window to return the state police and we categorically reject it."

By Elske Idzenga

Sources: Reuters; European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity; Al Jazeera; Human Rights Watch

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